Daily Journal of an Assistant Language Teacher / Automatic Language Tape Recorder (ALT) in the JET Programme living and learning in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. More information on the JET Programme here and here.
August 2004 (3rd Year as Fukushima JET)
Wow, I have a big update to make. I just returned from two wild weeks in Tokyo. I've got so much to write about it will take a while. The bad news is I just had to reformat my hard drive. It was getting uncontrollable with viruses (viri) and spyware, I really had no choice. I lost a lot of preferences and files, but I managed to back up most of them. Once I finish getting the computer back up to par, I will work on the Journal.
I'll just skim through the two weeks in Tokyo since it would be boring to most people. I arrived on Saturday the 24th and we spent the whole weekend setting up our Secretariat. Apparently that's a British word since I've never heard of it before I came to Japan. The new people started arriving from all over the world on Sunday so we greeted some and then worked in between arrivals. That night I went out with some new Fukushima JETs to a Mexican restaurant in Shibuya. If you saw Lost in Translation there was a scene where Bill Murray was walking across the street with hundreds of other people and flashing neon was all around him. Same area.
On Monday I had two workshops to present about how to ride trains and buses, then Tuesday we had a big meeting with all the JETs going to our prefecture. We planned a welcome party at some place called the Ginza Lion for that night and a second party for those people that went to their Embassies as a group. The Ginza party was ok, but not a lot of food for $30. Luckily we left early and paid, because 20 people were supposed to come but only 14 did. The place tried to charge us for 20 people so the lovely (and I do mean lovely) lady in charge of JETs threw a fit and started yelling at them. They agreed on the 20 and said don't come back. She is really far more than lovely, but she has some stupid love interest so I have no chance. Or minimal chance.
Then we met the rest of the people after they went to their respective Embassies and we went out to Karaoke. It was a blast, although we had 17 people in an 8 person room. The music was non-stop and it was all upbeat active songs. We ended around midnight and as I was paying they all organized a short song for me. It was touching.
Then on Wednesday they left. They all got on a bus and headed for Koriyama where they would meet their new supervisors and then see their new school and apartment for the next 1-3 years. I stayed around to work on the 1,200 applications we took in. I built an online system that allows several people to enter applications at once, as opposed to the only-me system of last year. It proved to be quite effective as we entered over 1,100 before the first conference was over.
Thursday I went to Disney Sea with the treasurer and spent far more than I had, but it was fun. I plan to take a group of new JETs back there at some point. Then on Friday I went to Odaiba which was a bit boring, but it wasn't supposed to be a big group thing like it turned out to be. A lovely member of AJET named Evonne planned it and then several people joined in. I ended up leaving early so I could get to Ginza to buy 2 iPods. One for me, since I had been saving for it for 3 months, and one for FuJET in which I will get reimbursed. We are going to have a stupid icebreaker and the prize for winning is the iPod. Maybe that will make people more active about doing it.
The next Saturday everything, more or less, repeated. We finished Wednesday again and I stayed around to input more applications and clean a bit. We were kicked out at 2pm and we all went to eat Mexican food again. I had Mexican food at least 8 times during the two weeks I was there. That night I went to a cheap, and I do mean cheap, hotel in Tokyo. It's called the New Koyo and it's only $25 a night which is insane for Tokyo.
You get what you pay for at most of these places. I would relate the place to a minimum security prison. It was clean, but very small and very institutional like. There was a long hallway with similar doors, two showers for 80 rooms, a group kitchen area, and co-ed bathrooms. The fun part was the free massage chair. That actually made the place worthwhile. It was also in a popular homeless area, popular because there were a few soup kitchens around it. More on that later. There was a great Ryokan down the road a bit that served a huge American style breakfast for $5. It was great and I wished I had gone there before the last morning.
I stayed there again Thursday night and really did nothing Thursday. I took a girl from Holland around to some places for a while and then just chilled back at the place doing nothing really. I spent several hours with her and never got her name. That's how it is in these Youth Hostel things, you always meet the same type of person and there is always an interesting story to be told. I plan to write more about that in either a little book type thing or a separate page. I probably met about 10 different people who were all completely different and had wonderful stories to tell.
Friday I went to another cheap hotel near Asakusa. I just chilled more and then explore the shrine area again, getting a few more pictures. That night I met up with Katherine and Neil for the last time. They were heading back to Scotland via the Trans-Siberian Express and this was their last night in Tokyo. For some reason we met in Shinjuku, and later learned we were all staying in Minowa. Think of a Tokyo as a clock and Shinjuku is 9 and Minowa is 3. So it was funny to realize we were probably on the same train all the way across Tokyo to meet somewhere completely out of the way.
Then Saturday I came back and had my luggage delivered a day early so I could start to unpack. Japan has a great luggage delivery system and it's really cheap. I can send something all the way across Japan, overnight for about $20. In the US it would be over $100 to overnight something anywhere. It's mainly used for luggage coming to and from the airport, and that is the mist convenient thing in the world I tell you. Strolling to the airport knowing your luggage is already there. All for less than $20, and they pick up and deliver to your door.
Since then I haven't had too much that was of interest to write about. Hold on I am doing laundry. - Ok back. Luckily it's a sunny day so my clothes will dry quickly. Today I will be busy at school, but not with school stuff, it will be me working on the FuJET newsletter for Michelle. Normally she does it all, but this week she has to do something called the Start Panicking Guide. Before the new people came we sent out something called Don't Panic, and the SPG is the guide for when they get here. It's going to be thick so I offered to assemble the newsletter for her since they are coming out around the same time.
Saturday August, 14th, 2004
Michelle found a super deal to Guam so we just booked it today. Airfare and hotel only $290. It's in the middle of September so that's why it's cheap. I'll have to take two vacation days off, but I don't care. I have plenty and I want to go to Guam. It's a US Territory so I can breeze through customs.
As you can see it's small, but also right near the equator so it has a very nice climate. We will be going on a Thursday, arriving around 7ish and staying until Sunday, unfortunately leaving at 6:30am. That was the only flight returning that wasn't full. Oh well at least we are going.
Around the same time my sister should be giving birth to my niece Skylar Marie Jordan. I guess I will be the mysterious world traveler uncle. I plan to send her gifts and spoil her, partially because that's what uncles do I think and also because it will probably irritate my sister. That's always fun. She freaks out when I refer to Skylar as Sky, which is a silly argument. It's a nickname, people are going to call her various things. Who cares if they shorten it? Her response is "well how about if I call you Ry?". Which is fine. I go by Ryan, Rhine, Rhino, Ry, RL, and anything else. It truly doesn't matter to me.
The other good news is I should be able to pay my credit card debt off soon. I spent a fair amount of money in Tokyo on behalf of FuJET and I will be able to get reimbursed soon. I'll send that money back along with the money I was going to send back in August anyway, and hopefully I can get it either all the way down or down a lot. It will either be this month or next month that I pay it off. Then I plan to double up on my other loans and get them down over the course of the year as well. I want to go to a language school next year, but it would be completely out of pocket for the whole time and I'd need to save up money from here. It's a great school and I would learn a lot, but I really need to get my skills up some to take full advantage of the classes.
On a non-related note, I've decided to actually make a commitment to myself and keep it. After our Beach Party August 21st, I am not going to drink alcohol for at least four months. From there it will either be in extreme moderation, or hopefully not at all. It will really REALLY be hard since I love beer and love the feeling of being slightly tipsy, but my liver has been telling me to stop for years and I should listen.
Friday August 20, 2004
Japanese people crack me up. I am sitting at the sushi bar and it's packed. There are people sitting in the waiting area. Two people finish eating and stand up to leave. A man and woman walk in the door, look at the waiting list, look at the people waiting in line, then look at the empty seats (that haven't been cleaned yet). Then they look at the list again, the people waiting again,ﾂ� and the empty seats again. Then they sit down at the empty seats. They just cut in line before about 20 people. The waiting people started being as confrontationally non-confrontational as they could and would make small comments about it, but not actually say anything. The waitress came over but had not seen any of this. She was confused by the lack of empty seats. The two people asked her to clean the plates and finally someone came over and explained what happened. The waitress told them there were people waiting and they would need to get in line (Japanese people aren't really good at waiting in line). They act flustered and slightly angry and go wait in line.
Five minutes later two more people stand up to leave and the line-cutting couple stand eagerly hoping to be the next people that sit there. There are still about 18 people in the line ahead of them. The waitress calls the next people in line by name and the couple sit back down. They leave after about 5 minutes of having to wait.
I've seen this a number of times.
Heading to the Iwaki Beach Party tomorrow.
Sunday Aug 22.
Beach party was ok. I am getting too old to fully appreciate it. I stopped drinking really early and went to bed. I thought the music was too loud and went on too long. I'm getting old. Such is life.
Wednesday, August 25th 2004
It's been a busy summer, and it's almost over. Unfortunately, the stupid state government agency that is in charge of the JETs in my area has made yet another idiot change that has caused all the Senior High School ALTs to change their lives. We all have a base school and two traveling schools. When we go to a new traveling school, usually only in April, we spend several months forming relationships with the students and teachers and trying our best to fit in. We usually only change in April, which is fine and makes sense because that's when the students start school. For some insane reason, they changed us right in the middle of the summer, which is in the middle of the school year.
So now, I have to go to two new schools, both of which are well known as crappy, poor discipline, and lots of troublemakers. The really bad thing is, since we never change during the summer, I made plans with many students and teachers for activities at both Adachi and the night school. I really made some friends at the night school and was really looking forward the coming year. Not only do I not go back to Adachi or the night school, I know go to the two schools that are the absolute farthest away from me. There are about 5 other JETs that are closer than me to all the schools, but they don't go to these two schools. Why would they, that would make sense. Things rarely make sense in Japan.
I am writing a nice letter to the department that "oversees" (ha ha what a joke) the High School ALTs. I will have it translated into Japanese and I will send it to everyone in the department. If it is even read, I doubt anything will come from it. All I want is for them to tell us in advance if there is a chance we will be moving schools. Currently, NO ONE has any idea around breaks. The schools don't know, my base school doesn't know, and the ALTs certainly don't know. We are constantly told to act like professionals and adults, but never once, NEVER ONCE are we treated like adults. Our lives are meddled in, we are told we are too incompetent to drive and it's in our contracts that we cannot drive to and from school.
How do you have a contract that controls someone's life and then tell them to act like professional adults. If my contract is from 8:30-4:30 everyday, you can tell me I can't drive during that time. I can live with that. But to have a contract that tells me what I can and cannot do outside of working hours, is simply CRAP. I have a friend who teaches in the same town as one of the new schools I will be going to. He school told her she cannot read anything, except Japanese books, while at school. And yet we are told to be professional and act like an adult. She was pseudo-dating a co-worker, but the school found out and told them they are not allowed to talk at school, NOT ALLOWED TO SPEAK TO EACH OTHER AT SCHOOL, and yet we are told we are supposed to act like professionals. She is not allowed to drive to and from any official work function, although every other teacher at her school does. They must be adults, while we are poor helpless little children.
What they don't realize is that I spent so much time building relationships with students and teachers, and now that I know I could be yanked out at anytime with out warning, I'm not going to care one bit. I won't talk to the students, I won't give out my email address, I won't try to get to know them or learn their names. Because I have been conditioned to simply not care. How is this a good policy? The students are constantly exposed to new people and never have time to develop an understanding of the new culture. Just about the time the night school students opened up to me I was gone. And the worse thing is, the thing that REALLY PISSES ME OFF, is I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to anyone. Not to the students, or to the teachers, or to the administration. I told several of them we would do things in class, I would bring gifts for them.
I am currently writing a nice letter in my head. I am waiting a few days, because right now the letter would get me fired. I honestly don't care about that at this point. If I were fired I would move out and get a job anywhere else doing the same thing for more money and far less BULL#@&%. I plan to send it to as many people as possible. It will most likely kick up some big waves, but I don't care. This is crap. This is garbage. You cannot treat people this way.
As far as Adachi goes, I'll most likely never see them again. But for the night school, I will go and visit once a month. They have dinner around 6:10 and are out of class around 8pm, so I can visit and see the teachers and students and then do something with Liz, who is the new ALT there. That is another thing that is really stupid. Liz lives so far away from the night school. She will have to take two buses or ride her bike. I guess she will have to ride her bike since there is no bus back at 8pm. She will have to ride her bike in the snow and the rain for over an hour. STUPID. Honestly I think these clowns get drunk and draw our names out of a hat. That's the only thing that is remotely logical about our assignments. Especially the ALTs that went to the disabled schools, it takes even longer to develop the children's trust, and they are just juggled in and out with no rhyme or reason.
Last year a male ALT was assigned to a fishing school in a beach city. He loved it. Then in April, 4 months before our contracts are over, a female ALT, who was leaving, was assigned to the fishing school. She hated it. They were low level rough boys. Why was she assigned there? Because the drunk monkey randomly pulled her name out of the ALT Hat and then pulled out the ALL MALE FISHING SCHOOL.
I am so livid right now. Partially because my life now sucks, partially because nothing makes any sense. I swear an inbred crippled baboon named Nancy could make better choices than our High School Board of Education. Maybe they will get the hint when none of the Fukushima city area SHS ALTs renew next year. No they won't get the hint. They will just keep chugging along inefficiently like Jabba the Hut or that fat guy that was so big he couldn't even get off his own bed. At one time I had considered staying on a 4th year since the money is pretty good, but now I want to be as far away as humanly possible from this baboon clown circus that is known as the JET program.
Part of the purpose in the JET program is to internationalize Japan (which doesn't happen) and the other reason, that is actually documented, is to present Japan in a better light to the rest of the world. JET wants people to leave and talk about the wonderful experience they had while in Japan. But sadly, this is rarely the case. Most people return with wonderful experiences, but they are often overshadowed but stories of ridiculous inflexibility, unwavering stinginess, and supervisors that give new meaning to "do it by the book". I too will have some funny stories to pass along when I leave, but most of my tales will have the listener saying "man that is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard".
There is really no two way street here. It's really just the JETs putting up with the sluggish Japanese inefficient Education system, while constantly being reminded of how wonderful it must be to make so much money. It is good money, and that's part of the reason I am doing it. I also thought it would be a wonderful experience to teach in a foreign country, especially Japan since I know a little Japanese. What no one told me was the absurd illogical process to which Japanese students are inefficiently taught English. No one here really speaks English. The students speak some variant of EngRish. We have lessons where the book says things like "Yes Todd you are VERY RIGHT". You can't be VERY right, you are either right or not. But it's in the book so therefore it must be correct.
A new teacher came to our school in April, she had just graduated from the local college with a degree in something like Sports or PE. I asked her is she could speak English and she admitted that the Japanese education system doesn't work. She did this by saying the magic catchphrase, "I can'to speaka Engrish". She had taken English for 6 years in JHS and SHS, then 4 years in college, and all she can incorrectly say was she cannot speak English. I took 1 year, ONE YEAR, of Spanish in High School, and I didn't really want to be in the class so I never put out any more effort that was required. At the end of one year I could have a basic conversation and understand most things I heard. After two years I would be able to talk about most anything I imagine. However, after 10 years, and entire decade of English lessons, Japanese students can't even say "I can't speak English" correctly.
News Flash: It's Broken. The system doesn't work. Build in some checkpoints, and actually pay attention when they say there is a problem. So often I will grade tests and see everyone made a 10 or a 35 or the highest score is a 40. I think we should review, but the teachers say we have to move right along and get through the book. I ask students basic questions like "What is your name?" and they do fine. I deviate from the standard questions in any ways shape or form and they lock up and can't answer. "Who is winning the game", "Who is your favorite actor", "What class is next", are all questions that will result in blank looks.
Wow. I feel better. I'm still writing the letter. But I do feel better. Perhaps I'll make it less nasty and more constructive.
When I get back from walking around the field I will talk about another typical Ryan Syndrome Experience.
Ok, back from wasting time / walking around the school field. I've mentioned Ryan Syndrome before, it's some mysterious force that constantly blocks my path. Recently I've been trying to work out and jog to get in shape. Everything was running smooth and then for no reason my knee started hurting. Not my bad knee, nor both knees, just my right knee. So now I can't jog and I am getting restless. Plus I am planning on hiking or climbing a rather tall mountain with some friends this weekend. So for no reason whatsoever, my right knee is hurting only when I lift it. I've been putting tons of the Japanese equivalent to Ben-Gay on it and I am wearing a knee brace. It feels a little better day by day, but will it be strong enough for the big hike on Saturday? I bet you it will magically heal Sunday when it's no longer a concern.
Tomorrow I sit in the teacher's room for 8 hours doing nothing productive. Tuesday I go to the Fireman's school. Wednesday I judge some speech contest. Then Thursday I go back to the Fireman's school. Friday I go to the stupid new school in Nihonmatsu, though Liz went there and said it wasn't so bad. It's still not the night school. Which I really miss. I will visit the night school in a few weeks.